'Intelligence Professional' Says NSA Deserves Trust, Power And Its Bulk Phone Metadata Collection Back

from the BLAME-SNOWDEN dept

Tom Wither, author, “intelligence professional,” and apparent apologist for the NSA, has written two op-eds in hopes of impressing on Americans the grave dangers that await them in this post-bulk phone metadata collection era. Wither lays the blame for future horrors on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. He frames his argument with the recent horror of the Paris attacks.

His first op-ed, written for The Hill, appeared two weeks after the Paris attacks. Titled “Stand with Our Watchers,” Wither’s piece asks the American public to put aside its concerns about domestic dragnet surveillance and allow the government to autonomously decide what it needs to do to “protect” us.

CIA Director John Brennan recently denounced the ‘hand-wringing’ over intrusive government spying and exposure of intelligence programs. We need organizations like NSA working to find, fix, and help eliminate terrorist threats to our nation’s and our ally’s citizens, and protect critical infrastructure like power, banking, and transportation; and those efforts must be grounded in our constitutional values.

Odd that Wither would bring up “constitutional values,” considering most of the objections to the surveillance he declares to be essential are predicated on these same values — ones that have been apparently ignored because they make terrorist hunting slightly more difficult.

Wither says the NSA (and others) are very conscientious of the limitations the Constitution places on its efforts. And, in many cases, this is true. But the combination of powerful tools and limited oversight has resulted in abuse in the past and likely will again in the future.

Snowden is mentioned in this op-ed, portrayed as a criminal who only revealed the NSA did nothing wrong before being welcomed by our former Cold War foe and praised by terrorist organizations for exposing surveillance methods.

Unmentioned in Wither’s op-ed — which uses fear (the terrorist attacks in Paris) to call for Americans to embrace their intrusive “protectors” — is the fact that current Public Enemy #1 (encryption) had little to do with the terrorists’ communications and, more importantly, that existing surveillance dragnets failed to prevent the attack from happening.

Before wrapping it up with a call for surveillance solidarity, Wither makes the following unbelievable claim.

U.S. intelligence officers of all stripes will be the first to tell you that they want clear, specific legal guidance that keeps pace with technology so that they can do their jobs effectively and within the constitutional framework they swore an oath to defend. I strongly believe that law enforcement professionals also want that kind of guidance – and need it as we learn more and more about law enforcement and IRS use of the ‘STINGRAY’ cell tower simulator and the FBI’s reconnaissance flights over Baltimore during the spring riots.

Intelligence officers may want “clear, specific legal guidance” but they only if it is written in their favor. And while it may be “clear” and “specific” to them, this legal guidance is withheld from the public and, in many cases, even from these agencies’ oversight.

And it’s abundantly clear very few law enforcement agencies are looking for “legal guidance” on Stingrays. Any information we do have has been torn from the death grip of FBI/local law enforcement agencies by tenacious FOIA requesters and privacy activists. Wither is right: these agencies do need more “guidance.” To date, they have deployed parallel construction, dismissed criminal cases and utilized bogus paperwork to protect their secret cell tower spoofers. But legal guidance would mean inconveniences like warrants, restrictions and minimization procedures — not exactly the sort of things intelligence or law enforcement agencies actively seek out.

Wither’s second op-ed — this one for the Baltimore Sun — picks up where his last one left off. The Paris attacks are invoked again to argue for increased surveillance… or at least the surveillance we had until just recently. This time Wither is arguing for the return of the NSA’s bulk phone metadata collection, because the program isn’t “criminal,” but “ending it” is.

On Sunday, while you were eating the leftovers from Thanksgiving and watching the afternoon’s football games, the National Security Agency stopped acquiring the call data records of millions of Americans.

Lousy, inconsiderate American public, ignorantly watching TV and eating leftovers instead of spending the waning moments of the Section 215 program on their phones, patriotically generating a few last phone records for the NSA to store at its data centers. For shame.

It’s not just the public that’s to blame. It’s also the media. Wither says the intelligence community must become much more transparent about its surveillance programs (good!) but mainly to head off irresponsible journalists (??).

[T]he law and oversight they operate under to constrain their activities within our values and constitutional principles should continue to become more transparent to the general public. Such increased transparency will help to lessen the public’s wariness and rush to judgment about what must be inevitably a government conspiracy or illegal activity based on initial news reports.

Wither also takes a parting shot at Snowden, with a paragraph that is as laughably bad as his claim that intelligence agencies are crying out for more legal guidance.

More than two years after Mr. Snowden’s leaks, not one NSA employee, affiliate or senior leader has been indicted, tried or convicted with a crime related to violating the FISA. Mr. Snowden, however, has been charged with two felonies under the Espionage Act, and has been praised by members of the Islamic State for teaching them how to avoid U.S. surveillance.

This slam of Snowden might actually mean something if (a) this administration wasn’t so focused on prosecuting whistleblowers and (b) the government didn’t routinely greet exposed wrongdoing by allowing the perpetrators to resign rather than face charges, or by issuing wrist slaps so light they might as well be pantomime. After all, the national intelligence director (James Clapper) lied to Congress, but still maintains his position at the top of the intelligence heap. And let’s not forget there are criminals the government likes and criminals it doesn’t, and they see two very different forms of prosecution when hauled into court.

That Snowden is a wanted felon is wholly unsurprising, given two consecutive administrations’ stalwart defense of the government’s post-9/11 power expansion. But pretending this is somehow indicative of the NSA’s inherent “rightness” is cheaply disingenuous.

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Comments on “'Intelligence Professional' Says NSA Deserves Trust, Power And Its Bulk Phone Metadata Collection Back”

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32 Comments
Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Wordplay

Intelligence is iterated to overcome a lack thereof.

Professional is the admission that the speaker is a paid mouthpiece uttering what he is told to utter.

Trust is what they want but cannot have, so they strive for it more earnestly.

Power is what they seek, and it is over you that they wish to exercise it.

Bulk Phone Metadata is the cover story for their true intent which is to create haystacks within haystacks layered on top of haystacks that may be trolled for information on people that come to their attention that they don’t like so they may be branded as terrorists in the process of becoming radicalized (whatever that means) without the benefit of any form of due process.

Anonymous Coward says:

NSA is very conscientious of the limitations of the Constitution

After all, how can you be sure you trample the maximum number of Constitutional principles if you don’t know what it says? If they didn’t read the Constitution, they wouldn’t know which techniques to focus on in their quest to violate it as much and as often as possible.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: NSA is very conscientious of the limitations of the Constitution

So you don’t feel obliged to believe that the same founding fathers who endowed us with freedom of speech and the right to privacy had intended for us to forgo their use?

I do not feel obliged to believe that same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended for us to forego their use.
– Galileo

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course most any ‘Intelligence Professional’- like a professional in any other field – is going to advise us that the country needs more of whatever it is that they do for a living.

Snowden reported that private contractors in the intelligence business make a fortune. So we shouldn’t expect that many would ever want this gravy train to end

Anonymous Coward says:

Trust is earned. So far, the NSA revelations from Snowden show that trust is misplaced. The public pretty much feels that way about not only these security branches but the government itself as well as the incumbent politicians.

While they all continue to have a field day at present, somewhere in their future will be a closed door to their continued corruption. It just has to get bad enough the voters get completely fed up with it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It is not specifically the NSA. It is the executive, from the POTUS down.

It is not just about domestic dragnet warrentless spying. It is about an unrepresentative, illegitimate federal government, flagrantly, corruptly and continuously acting against the wishes and interests of the populous.

The unconstitutional dragnet surveillance is just one of many symptoms.

Anonymous Coward says:

A lot of the op-ed could have (should have?) been written by someone arguing the exact opposite point:

On Sunday, while you were eating the leftovers from Thanksgiving and watching the afternoon’s football games, the National Security Agency stopped acquiring the call data records of millions of Americans.

SCORE! High five, amirite guys?

More than two years after Mr. Snowden’s leaks, not one NSA employee, affiliate or senior leader has been indicted, tried or convicted with a crime related to violating the FISA. Mr. Snowden, however, has been charged with two felonies under the Espionage Act

I know – that’s fucking insane, right? His point is that this is utterly ridiculous to pretend that not a single NSA employee has done something illegal in this time frame… isn’t it?

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Here's some legal guidance, free of charge

If what you are doing is questionable enough that you have to go to a lawyer, then don’t do it.

I will ignore transactional work, such as drawing complicated contracts. I doubt that this is what you had in mind.

You probably meant that if you have any question about particular contemplated overt acts, avoid doing anything where you need to ask a lawyer. This sounds simple and reasonable.

It is also wrong. There are enough areas where the law is either unsettled or variable by location (and judge) that you may be well served to discuss with counsel before you do the act.

Want to buy land with any sort of interesting history? Want to build on a 50′ lot? Want to paint your house but you live in an HOA community?

Maybe it was a mistake or series of mistakes that got you there, but now you are where you are.

Are your company still using the building and offices you used 30 years ago? Well, maybe before the ADA, your rights were clear. Good luck, now.

I doubt that the earlier advisor offering free legal advice would make a serious argument that buying, building, painting, or using the same old office are particularly reprehensible. None the less, without a lawyer, you may be taking your chances.

Usually you will come out OK in all of those activities. Maybe that is good enough. In that case, sure, you may avoid using a lawyer. I think most lawyers are already busy enough that your decision will not be a problem for them.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Here's some legal guidance, free of charge

I will ignore transactional work, such as drawing complicated contracts. I doubt that this is what you had in mind.

I’ve worked perfectly respectable gigs (computer geek, sysadmin, code hacker, …) where job #1 was “break into this system.”

I did it. It was their system. Nobody died. The devil’s always in the details.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mr. Wither,

How you’re able to write pieces for any media outlet is astounding, given your lack of objective reporting, apologist agenda and ever popular strategy, but predictable strategy of denouncing Mr. Snowden (the bad guys use of Snowden is a PR strategy).

You and the rest of these government agencies and the government itself do not deserve anyone’s trust or cooperation as you well know. They’ve forfeited that after the litany of abuse and corruption that has gone unchecked.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Or is it possible to infect them all with a virus or worm that would completely wipe out the contents of every drive they have?”

Better (and more legal) to fill all of their drives with completely random data; more “hey” for their hey stacks.

* Completely random data is incompressible, so the drives really will fill up

* Completely random data for their supercomputers to navel gaze with

Since they already store everything that they can’t decrypt, everyone needs to provide them with more random bits.

tqk (profile) says:

Ah ha! He admits it!

More than two years after Mr. Snowden’s leaks, not one NSA employee, affiliate or senior leader has been indicted, tried or convicted with a crime related to violating the FISA.

True, and we are wondering wtf they’ve been doing about that, because a whole lot of whistleblowers have been screaming about rampant abuse for quite some time now. What’s taking so long?

Tom Czerniawski (profile) says:

This quote...

“More than two years after Mr. Snowden’s leaks, not one NSA employee, affiliate or senior leader has been indicted, tried or convicted with a crime related to violating the FISA.”

So fucking what? Not one CIA employee has seen prosecution over the black site program, and people were TORTURED TO DEATH there. If our government wants to get away with an atrocity, it does, because who’s going to stop it?

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